I hold the white blouse between my fingertips, as if it will come to life and bite my hand off at any given moment, my hand shakes and I allow the top to fall back into the box on my lap. I can't believe that Prue is actually gone- that there's no magical cure in the whole Book of Shadows to bring her back to life. Tears fall, unbidden from my sore eyes, and I plunge my hand into the box again, grasping something hard and square-shaped. I inhale shakily and withdraw the item; a small blue scrapbook that smells of sandalwood- I'll never forget the scent of Grams' perfume- and times of the past. The title states "Memories" in small, cursive font, and my head and heart are suddenly engaged in war. My head wants me to leave the book alone, put it back where I found it and never bring it to the light of day again, but my heart is curious to see what's inside.
Slowly, I open the cover and the old binding cracks, I wonder how long it's been since someone looked at and appreciated the album's content, my breath catches in my throat when I see Prue's familiar writing. I know she must have been in the fourth or fifth grade when she first received it because all of her letters have incessant curls and hearts embellishing them:
Property of: Prudence Victoria Halliwell
PIPER AND PHOEBE: KEEP OUT
I smile wryly, swiping at my wet eyes, it's true that my younger sister and I were nosy when we were children (heck, we're still busy-bodies now), Prue was furious whenever we made an attempt to pry into her personal life. As we got older, though -especially after learning of our Wiccan-Wonder Destinies- we told each other everything. Secrets were a rarity between the three of us. It's been almost three months since Prue was murdered by Shax, I still half-expect to be woken up at the ungodly hour of five thirty in the morning by Prue getting ready for work. She always loved photography, and she'd just started making a name for herself in the business when Shax killed her. She died trying to save an innocent, a loud-mouth doctor who ended up dying anyway.
Phoebe and I have only recently discovered that we have an illegitimate half-sister named Paige- she's the product of a torrid affair between our dead mother and our dead mother's former white-lighter, Sam what'shisface. Sometimes it's surreal, to think that we just lost our sister and we're still expected to fight for the greater good. If you ask me, it's all a bunch of bullshit anyway, I don't trust the elders. They expect Phoebe and I to bounce right back and kick demonic ass, forget that Prue was a major part of our lives.
Well, I've got news for those asswipe elders. She was my big sister; I can't just pretend she didn't exist. I flip to the first page of the album, I'm surprised that there isn't a picture, just a simple rhyme written in that same swirly writing- could it be a spell? But that's impossible, my sisters and I weren't aware of what our magic powers could do until we were adults, but I have the distinct feeling that this passage is more than the rhyming thoughts of a little girl. I know it. I glance around Prue's bedroom like a cat that has just eaten the family canary; I don't want anybody to walk in on me reciting this spell. Leo- my wonderful pacifist of a husband- will insist that I "talk about my feelings" and I don't want Phoebe or Paige coming in. But I don't have to worry about the latter two because Phoebe has taken Paige out for lunch- I'm shocked, and a little affronted, on Prue's behalf that Phoebe has warmed up to our baby sister so quickly- I feel like this is something I need to accomplish on my own. I take a deep breath and mutter the rhyme.
"Let these human eyes behold,
Stories that are often retold,
To me through pictures and kind words,
Let me see, for the sake of memory."
And just like that, I am being sucked into my sister's old photo album.
"Umph!" I land less-than-gracefully on my backside in an unfamiliar location, the air reeks of disinfectant. I stand, dusting off my jeans and looking around me. I'm in a hospital room; a team of doctors swarms around the hospital bed, and my Grams is there as well. Wait, Grams, what the heck is she doing here? My father stands beside her (putting as much distance between them as he possibly can, of course), he's bent over the patient, murmuring soothing words that I can't catch.
"Grams? Dad?" Neither of them acknowledge me, whoever is in the bed has a tight death-grip on Grams' hand. One of the doctors moves aside, giving me a full view of my mother, propped up on the pillows, sweat pouring down her body. A groan escapes her lips and she scrunches her eyes shut tight, I can see the tenseness in her face.
"Come on, Mrs. Halliwell, just one more big push!" A doctor coaxes.
"You can do it, Patty." Dad encourages, kissing her forehead.
"You can do it," Grams repeats, smoothing Mom's brown hair. "Come on, Patricia dear, one more push."
"Arghhhhhh!" I have to avert my eyes; Mom appears to be in a tremendous amount of physical agony. A newborn baby's cries fill the room; I chance a peek at the doctor holding up the bawling infant.
"She's out! Congratulations, Mrs. Halliwell, you have a beautiful baby girl." He exclaims, Dad cuts the baby's cord (much to Grams' disapproval) and the doctors take her away to clean her up. Mom flops back onto the pillows, her dark hair fanning out around her as she exhales.
"See? That wasn't so bad." Grams is all business, as usual.
"Says you," Mom is having trouble keeping her eyes open, "the baby came three weeks early and I've been in labour for the past ten hours, I'm exhausted." Dad chuckles and kisses her forehead lightly, I have to admit that it's sort of weird to see my parents exchanging affection. Grams rolls her eyes and I can tell she's fighting off the urge to gag like a juvenile teenager.
"Get some rest," Dad proposes, he speaks to Mom in the way that Leo speaks to me; like he is speaking to his soul-mate.
"No," Mom refuses, it requires too much effort to shake her head, "I want to see my baby girl first."
I am smiling as I witness this display of togetherness, I've never seen my parents looking so in love (as creepy as that is right now, it's still cute, which counts for something). A nurse interrupts the moment by passing through the doorway with the infant; she is swaddled in a generic yellow hospital blanket.
"Here you are, Mrs. Halliwell," Mom's eyes light up and she accepts the baby when it's offered to her, tears are threatening to spill over as the nurse leaves. The baby is wide-awake, glancing around at the world with the cloudy blue eyes that all newborns possess. I feel a warm glow in my heart and I approach the bed. Nobody sees me- I'm invisible in these… photograph rehashings- and I go to stand on the other side of my mother's bed.
"She's beautiful," Mom whispers tiredly, examining the baby's perfect little fingers, which have reached up to touch her face curiously.
"That's my girl," Dad pipes in lovingly (again, Grams is trying to hold in her nausea).
"That's our girl," Mom corrects, smiling. "Prudence Victoria Halliwell." It's weird to be standing in this memory, my older sister's birth. Tears threaten my vision, the infant turns her head. Prue is looking right at me, and her tiny rosebud mouth curves into a smile.
I want so badly to stay and observe my family, but before I can even reach out to touch Prue, the room begins to spin.
"Oh no," I grunt, the hospital flashes out of my line of vision, and instead I am dropped into the kitchen of the Manor. Grams is standing at the sink rinsing a washcloth and two little girls- they can't be more than three and five- are being a nuisance underfoot.
I immediately recognize the girls: myself and Prue.
"Grams, what's happening to Mommy?" Little Piper's voice quivers, her lower lip is trembling. "She sounds like she's hurt."
"She's fine, Piper!" Grams' voice is sharper than intended, Little Piper shrink back from the harshness of her tone. Prue hugs her and she buries her face in Prue's neck.
"Prudence, take Piper into the sunroom and watch cartoons. Go!" Grams bustles away like a raging cyclone, nearly knocking over Little Piper and Little Prue.
"Jeez, you don't have to be so pushy!" I call after her, despite the fact that I'm sitting in the invisible peanut gallery. I follow the kids into the sunroom, it's overflowing with dolls, books and other childhood toys that I had long-since forgotten. Prue is dragging Little Me by the arm.
"Come on, Piper," she sits down on the ground and offers me a Barbie from the messy pile on the ground, "let's play 'explorer Barbies'."
"Can I be Barbie this time?" Little Piper asks in a tiny voice, whenever we played with Barbies, Prue was always Barbie. I was forced to be Teresa all the time.
"Umm," Prue stares at the plastic blonde figurine in her hands; I can tell the wheels in her little brain are turning.
I snort. "Oh, just let me have the doll."
"Okay, fine," Prue passes the doll to Little Piper reluctantly and retrieves another one almost exactly like it, "but I get to be Barbie, too."
"We can't have two Barbies." Little Piper argues. "There always has to be Barbie and Teresa, you made up that rule."
"Yeah, well now I'm changing it." Prue sticks out her tongue, Little Piper frowns.
"Do you think Mommy's really okay?"
"She's fine," Prue assures Little Piper while setting up the Barbies "adventure" with her plastic play-set, "she's just having a baby."
"Oh. I thought babies were 'upposed to come from storks."
"They do come from storks," Prue was too young to have gotten the "talk", "but Mommy has to switch bodies with the stork and then the baby comes out of her tummy, like magic. Duh."
"Oh. I knew that," Little Piper insists and I laugh at my naivety, my willingness to accept my older sister's word as law. I watch them play with their dolls for a few more minutes, startled by the sound of glass breaking. Little Prue's head shoots up and Little Piper immediately discards the toy, throwing it to the ground.
"Mommy!" Little Piper howls, rushing for the stairs, Prue is nipping at her heels and I follow them, my heart pounding in my chest rapidly. Little Piper and Prue burst through my parents' bedroom door, it hits the wall with a thud. We're just in time to witness Grams vanquishing a demon- later she would use a spell to wipe our memories and make us believe that we hadn't seen anything of the sort- Mom was laying on the bed and Dad was standing by her side, pale and shaken.
"Girls!" He yells, spotting us. I catch a glimpse of fatherly panic in his eyes and for a moment I can understand why he was so resistant to the idea of magic.
"They're fine," Grams decrees after she sees us, "now shut up and help me deliver this baby." And that's when we catch sight of the human head forcing its way out of the juncture between Mom's thighs. I'm feeling a bit queasy as I turn away, there are some things I'll never be able to see without flushing from discomfort. Watching my mother give birth is one of those things.
"Ew! That's so gross!" Little Piper wrinkles her nose, but she and Prue are glued to the floor, unable to look away from the disgustingly fascinating miracle that is birth.
"VICTOR!" Mom barks, "take the girls out of here!" Dad hurries to do as she says, herding us down to the kitchen and fixing us ice cream sundaes. As soon as he is certain that Prue and Little Piper are occupied with eating ice cream, he runs back upstairs, tripping over himself twice. I sit at the chair across from Prue and my younger self, watching them stuff their faces fondly, I'm starting to remember this night.
"Prue?" Little Piper glances up from her ice cream, a smudge of vanilla ice cream on her lip, "why was that thing coming out of Mommy's private place?"
"That was the baby," Prue explains, shoving ice cream into her own mouth. Little Piper is wide-eyed and appalled, I can see it in the way her eyes bulge and her mouth drops open. She is so surprised that her elbow knocks against her bowl of ice cream and it spills to the floor.
"Oops," Little Piper lowers her head; I know that Grams won't be happy to see a mess when she comes back downstairs. Not to mention that I didn't get my ice cream. I wish that I was visible, or at least able to manipulate inanimate objects, because I definitely want to clean up the mess on the floor.
"You can share mine," Prue decides, pushing her sundae towards me, she hops off of her chair and gets me a new spoon, handing it to me.
"Thanks, Prue," little Piper acknowledges earnestly, digging into the frozen treat. "But," the younger version of me pauses, pressing the utensil against my lips, "where was the stork?"
"Don't know," Prue shrugs.
"Are you going to like the new baby more than you like me?"
"How do you know?"
"Because I'm older." I actually laugh aloud at this, it was so authoritative and commanding… so Prue.
"Okay." And they went back to finishing their ice cream. The moment of sisterly bonding makes my heart swell but I'm not given the opportunity to linger here and watch, the room is moving again.
This time I land in a pitch-black setting. My eyes flick open and closed as they adjust to the darkness, and then I can see my childhood bedroom, the room that I used to share with Prue. For a moment, I am lost in this memory, in this place of old, I quickly snap out of it when I hear a rustle behind me. Instinctively, I dive for the rocking chair in the corner of the bedroom and watch as the rest of the scene unfolds:
Little Piper is tossing and turning in her bed, reluctant to succumb to sleep. I watch as she wriggles around, attempting to find a comfortable position. There is nervousness in her eyes, and I can recall this moment easily; this was the night before I started my first day of school. Phoebe was sleeping with Mom that night (Dad had checked into a motel, it's around this time when my parents' fighting escalates, resulting in Dad leaving us). I can't help it, I start to feel bad for myself… not because I'm a little kid experiencing her first day of school, but because I am a little kid who has no idea that in the coming years, high school will rip her apart and destroy her self-esteem.
"Prue?" Little Piper sits up, swinging her legs out of bed. She tiptoes across the room to where Prue is sleeping and shakes her shoulder. A glance at the alarm clock on Prue's nightstand tells me that it's ten thirty, Little Piper and I both know how cross Prue can get when she's woken up for no good reason.
"What, Piper?" Prue finally growls sleepily, staring at mini-me through groggy, heavy-lidded eyes.
"I'm scared," Little Piper whispers simply, and Prue shifts in her bed. Little Piper backs up a few steps, afraid that she has provoked the wrath of her seven-year-old sister, but Prue scoots over, making room on her bed.
"Come on," she says, "I'll stay up with you." Little Piper doesn't need to be told twice, eagerly; she hops into the bed and cuddles into Prue's side. Prue smiles sleepily and hugs her back.
"Kindergarten's a breeze," Prue assures me as we both lie down, "and if anybody's mean to you, tell me."
"Mmkay," Little Piper smiles, "'night Prue."
I don't realize I'm crying until I feel the warm liquid trickling down my face, I reach up, rubbing my eyes with my shirt sleeve. As I watch the two little girls, each immersed in their own dreams (well, Prue might have been dreaming. I had a nightmare where I was turned into a monkey and made a spectacle of in front of my entire kindergarten class). The room is moving again, this time I stand up; I'm ready for the next memory.
I am jolted roughly through the years, I can see blurs of important events: Dad walking out the front door with Mom calling after him to please rethink his decision; my sisters and I dressed in sombre black lace dresses at our mother's funeral; Prue getting ready to go on her first date with her first love, Andy Trudeau.
"Oof!" I stumble slightly, unprepared for the awkward landing. I'm in my bedroom again, but this time, it's empty and devoid of any childish decorations, Prue, Phoebe and I are in our teens, and the band posters on the wall are painful reminders of how dorky we were. My sisters and I are at odds with one another on a daily basis now; I'm usually the mediator of these arguments.
"I told you Piper, I don't need to talk!" Prue storms through the bedroom door, her dark hair is mussed and her grey-green eyes are wild. Her pants are on backwards and her top is hanging off of her shoulder. I snort and cover my mouth, seventeen-year-old Prue has just come home from Andy's house after doing the nasty with him for the first time. Which means that she's just lost her virginity, and she's scared and pissed and confused.
"Prue," my timid 15-year-old self scuttles into the room after her and shuts the door quietly. "What's the matter?"
"Didn't I just finish saying that I don't want to talk?!" Prue's voice rises as she tosses herself carelessly on the bed and scowls. There are tears glistening in her eyes and my young self spots them straight away.
"Did you get into a fight with Andy?" Teenaged Piper prods, because she knows that Prue needs to vent, even if she'd rather keep her emotions repressed.
"No!" I make a face and my younger self shrinks for a moment before standing tall and walking to the bed.
"What did you guys get into a fight about?" Teenaged Piper continues with the argument theory, her prudishly virginal brain hasn't even considered that Prue might be engaging in activities that are supposed to be reserved for marriage.
"We didn't get into a fight!" Prue chokes, she's staring at the ceiling and tears are pouring from her eyes.
"Was it about Tammy?" Tammy Richardson was Prue's ex-best friend and the second most popular girl in school (Prue, of course, was the most popular). Prue had stopped being friends with Tammy after the girl had started making up rumours about Prue cheating on Andy with half of the football team (they were convenient falsehoods because Prue was captain of the cheerleading squad, and the whole of the football team adored her). Tammy had started the rumours so that she could have Andy for herself. Andy was oblivious to Tammy's evilness (ugh, teenaged boys), and he and Prue often got into heated rows about how Tammy deserved better treatment from Prue and her other friends.
"Was it about Grams?" Grams was a total stickler back then but she was toughest on Prue, she expected her to help mother Phoebe and I, and if that meant that she had to sacrifice her own life to do it, then that was just the way it had to be. Prue and Andy argued about Grams and her viewpoints constantly, they were both sick of the restrictions she placed upon my sister… which is why I never really understood why they fought over her.
"Piper! We didn't fight! We had sex!" She sniffles.
"Uhh…" Teenaged Piper freezes, letting the news sink in. "You… you… uh… wow."
"Was it your first time?" My teenaged self is trying not to think about the whole 'penis vagina' concept as she sits down on the edge of the bed.
"Yes. And I don't even know why I'm upset, because it was his too."
"Mhmm." Teenaged Piper is at a loss for words but her face is scarlet, I couldn't stand discussing sex back then, unlike Phoebe, who had much more experience than I did at twelve.
"But it's just that it… I don't know, it was fast, you know? And it kinda hurt and-" fresh tears explode from Prue's eyes. "I wanted to save it for someone who loves me."
"Andy loves you!" Teenaged Piper insists, smoothing Prue's hair, "why else would he want to… do that with you?"
"Because he's a horny bastard who can't keep it in his pants!"
"Did he force you?"
"No. I was horny too."
"I didn't need to know that, Prue." Teenaged Piper grows even redder now, and it might be sick and wrong, but I'm actually laughing my head off.
"Sorry. It's just that, if Grams finds out, she'll ground me for the rest of my life! Andy will be going out with Tammy by then."
"Andy and Tammy?" Teenaged Piper tests the names together, it's like trying to force together two puzzle pieces that won't click, "nope. Prue and Andy sounds better."
"You don't think I'm a slut, do you?"
"No," I am shaking my head along with Teenaged Piper; Prue is the farthest thing from a slut I've ever known in my life.
"Thanks for letting me bitch."
The doorbell chimes downstairs, Teenaged Piper and Prue exchange a look.
"Who could that be?"
"Grams and Phoebe are in a meeting with Phoebe's principal tonight, it's too early for them to be back." Prue shrugs and adjusts herself so that she's sitting up straight.
"Well, let's go find out who it is." Teenaged Piper takes Prue's hands, pulling her off the bed and out of the room. I am smiling, because I know that Andy is on the other side of the door with a box of chocolates and a teddy bear as a peace offering. He and Prue go out until college (several years after the break up, they resume dating, but that's a whole different story).
I'm so caught up in my own thoughts that I don't realize I've been transported to a different picture- this time, I recognize where I am instantaneously. I have a copy of this picture in my wedding album. This photo was taken recently. I'm standing in the upstairs hallway, watching Prue, who is standing at my bedroom door, swaying on her feet with her fist raised, deliberating whether to knock. It's the night of my wedding, Leo and I have retired to our bedroom since we're holding off on the honeymoon idea. I remember that I was angry with Prue for ruining my wedding over the sake of a rough-and-tumble bad boy that appealed to her inner desires. Albeit it worked itself out in the end, I can see from her posture that Prue still feels culpable for the mess she caused that day. She inhales and stands straighter, her fist making contact with the door. My past self opens the door, irritated by the interruption on such a crucial night, Past Piper is standing there wearing my favourite pink bathrobe (it's made of Egyptian cotton and extremely soft), looking ticked off. Leo has just left to care for one of his other charges (damn elders) and I don't really feel like socializing.
"Hi," Past Piper offers a miniscule smile, "are you feeling better?" Concern flashes in her eyes.
"Oh, yeah, I'm fine." Prue clears her throat and then gives Past Piper the once-over. "Nice," she critiques the black babydoll chemise she's wearing underneath the opened robe (when you live with two siblings who always seem to barge in when you're naked or "in the mood", nudity is not an issue). Past Piper's cheeks warm to a light pink and then Prue returns to being serious again.
"Look, Piper, I'm sorry if I'm ruining your wedding night, too, I just wanted to apologize-"
"Prue, you're not ruining anything." Past Piper stands back, allowing Prue to see that she's the bedroom's only occupant. "Leo was just called away to help one of his charges- the elders won't even let me enjoy my own wedding night."
"No fucking way," Prue steps into the room and flops down on the bed; she has changed out of her bride's maid dress and washed her hair.
"Yes way," Past Piper sits on the bed as well and I creep towards the room to listen, standing by the doorframe. "Where's Phoebe?" Past Piper asks.
"She and Cole are practicing for their wedding," Prue scoffs. I know she's rolling her eyes because she's never been too fond of Phoebe's significant other.
"Apparently, marrying forbidden subspecies is becoming a trend in our family," Past Piper comments with a wry glare at the ceiling.
"Mm, well, I think I'll just find myself a decent mortal man." I peek my head around the doorframe and smile as I watch myself and Prue converse, then I frown because I know that in a few short weeks, she'll be gone, ripped from my life forever. It all seems so disgustingly unfair. Prue and my past self chatter away, her head is pillowed on my shoulder as she asks me if I think she will ever find true love. If she will ever connect with anyone the way she connected with Andy. I assure her that she will, but then remind her that Andy will always have an important place in her heart that no man could fill, no matter how wonderful he is. Prue says something about marrying a bunch of men until she finds the right one, like Grams did. We laugh.
My eyes are watering, I stifle a sob but then I realize they can't hear me. My stomach is churning with grief and because of that I barely notice that I have left the upstairs hallway, I'm now back in Prue's bedroom, present time.
I gulp and allow the tears to pour out, a fresh wave of bitterness cascading over me. Had the spell run its course? Why am I back here? I'd wanted so badly to remain in that blithe memory.
"Piper," I jump about a foot in the air and the colour drains from my face when I see Prue, sitting on her bed. The box I'd been unpacking earlier- the one with the magic photo album in it- was nowhere to be found.
"P-Prue?" I breathe, my voice breaks because I'm so incredulous. "Are you…"
"Alive? No." Prue shakes her head and smiles sadly, contrite for getting my hopes up. I notice that her dark hair is flowing down her back and she is wearing a simple white dress that stops just below her knees.
"But then how-"
"Am I here right now?" Prue fills in for me and I nod stupidly, I feel that my feet are stuck to the floor. As badly as I want to run to the bed and throw my arms around her, I will not let myself. I can't handle the pain that simple action will bring. "I'm here because you need to learn that you don't need me."
"O-of course I do." I'm crying shamelessly now, her figure is blurry. "You're my b-big sister for crying out loud!"
"Piper, you can do this alright?" She says in that no-nonsense tone of hers, "you're strong enough to handle this."
"No," I weep, "you're wrong."
She snorts derisively. "I'm never wrong." We both chuckle at this; my laughter is rough and watery at the same time.
"Piper," she stands up and crosses the room, closing the distance between us as she pulls me into a sisterly embrace. "You'll be fine." I hug her back tightly, gratified that right now, to me, she is a solid being and not a ghost. "Ooh," Prue is smiling. "Just wait until the kids come along."
"Kids?" I pull away to look at her, she shrugs at me impishly.
"Oops," she beams, "I told the elders I wouldn't say anything."
"Screw the elders," I laugh and hug her again, "so, just out of curiosity, do you know what gender my future children will be?"
"Unfortunately, no. I think they knew I was going to blurt it out so they didn't tell me." Prue makes a face.
"How's Andy?" Prue's smile widens and I see that spark of warmth glimmering in her eye. "How do you know I'm with Andy?"
"Please, Prue," I roll my eyes, "you may be dead but I still know you better than anybody else on the planet."
"Except for maybe Andy."
"He's not on this planet," I quip, "so how is he?" I am eager to have an update.
Prue smirks. "Oh, he's good, he's really good. Better than when we were alive." Her eyes are twinkling with mirth.
"Prue!" I'm shocked by her flippant use of an innuendo, "aren't you supposed to be saintly and pure?"
"Now who said that?" My sister retaliates playfully, "but to answer your question, yes, he's doing great. He misses you guys almost as much as I do. Grams and Mom won't even let me check up on things down here."
"You're breaking the rules right now?" My smirk matches hers.
"Yeah," she shrugs, "but I have to get back to the afterlife before somebody notices I'm missing. We're throwing an anniversary party for Mom and Sam."
"Ah, I see," I'm unable to be a sulky child and demand that she stay here with me; she's finally found happiness (and her inner partier) in the afterlife, I can't bring myself to spoil it for her. "Well then," I smile and wipe the residual tears away, "you'd better get back."
We hug one last time, and then she's gone with a simple: "Blessed be." I am dropped back into my bedroom in the present day, on the bed, with the blue photo album in my lap. The incantation on the inside cover has vanished, it served its purpose. I smile, pulling the cardboard carton into my lap and sorting through its contents, feeling as if I can fly.
"I hope you have fun at the party, Prue," I declare looking up; I swear I can hear her laughing.